Pirate Queen: The Legend of Grace O’Malley

Written by Tony Lee
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In 1546, young Grace O’Malley is the daughter of a powerful chieftain in Western Ireland. “Black Oak” O’Malley wants his daughter to grow up refined and educated as befits her station, but Grace prefers wielding a sword and going to sea to smash the English enemy which is striving to subdue Ireland. With the help of sympathetic crewmen, she cuts her fiery red hair and stows away aboard her father’s ship, ultimately saving him from assassination in Spain. Now a member of the crew, she voyages to aid one of her family’s Scottish friends across the sea and manages to earn the enmity of an English nobleman and spirit a very young Scottish Queen Mary away to safety.

Later the English paid Irish traitors to try to capture Grace and end up killing her husband. Grace recruits an army of rejected sailors and eager, motivated women and takes the battle to the English and treacherous Irish clans in revenge. Over the years, her family grows, and she continues the struggle, eventually confronting English Queen Elizabeth in a dramatic meeting where the two earn each other’s respect.

This graphic novel, designed for middle-grade readers, is characterized by brilliant and vivid artwork and a thrilling story closely based on actual historical events. English Lord Richard Bingham is the perfect sinister and murderous villain to offset the valor and patriotism of Grace and other rebellious Irish leaders. The book has the feel of an exciting animated movie. Discerning girls and boys may end up disdaining the made-up farcical and cartoonish “superwomen” of film, television and video games and come to appreciate the infinitely more impressive and thrilling women of actual history. Heartily recommended.